John Cochrane on the Milton Friedman protest letter

Read John’s response here (the original letter is here).  In my view the damning bit is this one:

…it is to me sadder still how atrociously written this
letter is. These people devote their lives to writing on social issues, and
teaching freshmen (including mine) how to think and write clearly.  Yet
it’s awful.

Recommended for those who like polemic and mutual recrimination.

I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer.

Comments

Tyler, you act as if these professors are pure academics. They are a bunch of ideological liberals who dislike ideological conservatives. It's a political battle in the midst of academia. Instead of talking about the real issues and the fundamental questions, as Friedman always has, they want to shoot him down. I go to the U of C and I can tell you, professors hate the Econ department - all for no academic reason but one that is ideological. Read my letter to the Chicago Tribune: http://www.nolanchart.com/article4080.html.

As my professor once told me, "the feuds are so vicious because the stakes are so low".

That original letter is painful to read...

I read the letter and I'm impressed by this "many" person. He seems to get around.

"Many colleagues are distressed by..."

"Many would argue that..."

"many would question..."

"Many of us are also perturbed..."

"many of us feel that..."

I guess it's just many being many.

That was easily one of the most enjoyable readings I've had for quite some time. I love being entertained by academic ripostes. I imagine Mr. Cochrane wont be so popular at the next interdepartmental faculty dinner.

Actually there is one....his name is Ralph Austen.

Further, don't these people also know that the ONLY thing people like me know or care about the Chicago school is The Chicago School?

I think they need to change the text of the letter to that of a resignation announcement.

Hmmm, one has to wonder if any of the whiners who claim, "We are concerned, additionally, that this endeavor could reinforce among the public a perception that the University’s faculty lacks intellectual and ideological diversity" didn't either read Professor Friedman's seminal work, Free To Choose or didn't understand it...

Everyone of them are free to go somewhere else...

Michael Gordon, I think you're too simplistic in your categorization. All four of these "conservative" groups support "free markets," but not the full extent libertarians do, and only for their own political gain. The concept of "free markets" is much broader and richer than what you've presented here, and when analyzed closely, one sees the other 3 "conservative" groups detesting ideas of libertarians.

For example: organ donation markets, open-borders to immigrant workers, legalization of drug and prostitution, FREE TRADE*, etc. I could go on.

*While it's true the other 3 conservative sub-groups sometimes support free trade, it's tepid at best, and only at times of political expediency

You can call these libertarian positions as pertaining to social issues, but they're very much economic.

I know the University of Chicago for only two things: Jim Watson was a student there, and it is home to the Chicago School. The 100 illiterate nonentities should go and boil their heads.

When did Friedman start calling himself conservative? In this video he pretty clearly states that he is not conservative, but this video is very old.

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en-us&resnum=0&q=milton%20friedman&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv#

Ben, Chicago GSB has finance and accounting, I'm pretty sure. Don't know about engineering.

"Note the number of economists that signed the petition.

Posted by: Mark N. at Jul 31, 2008 11:06:04 AM

Actually there is one....his name is Ralph Austen.

Posted by: Christopher Espinal at Jul 31, 2008 11:09:25 AM"

***Isn't he a History Prof?***

"Michael Gordon, I think you're too simplistic in your categorization. All four of these "conservative" groups support "free markets," but not the full extent libertarians do, and only for their own political gain. The concept of "free markets" is much broader and richer than what you've presented here, and when analyzed closely, one sees the other 3 "conservative" groups detesting ideas of libertarians."
-- Andrew

Andrew: I would like to reply, but it seems as if my original post here to which you refer has been removed.

The key linguistic points remain all the same. In the US, the huge bulk of the electorate regards libertarians as "conservatives" . . . libertarian candidates for any political office seldom, if ever, pulling in more than 3-4% of the local vote. That tag is applied by both Republicans and Democrats alike.

In the wider world, you are dubbed "liberals" or "neo-liberals".

.....

You might not like these tags, but then I suppose the New Left radicals in our universities and elsewhere don't like being dubbed "politically correct" ideologues either. And yes, Milton Friedman did say in that Der Spiegel interview --- it was printed in German (though the interview was undoubtedly in English) --- that in the US context he's a conservative, but in Europe, given that conservatism means statist-conservatism (even the small Tory wing of the Conservative Party in Britain fits that term down to the Thatcher era), he should be regarded as a "liberal".

...

Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor: http://www.thebuggyprofessor.com

Yes, the original letter was had annoying cliché to content ratio, Friedman was a great economist, and the complaint about the MFI is pretty baseless. However, Cochrane's response does not raise the bar for avoiding non-sequiteurs or stylistic flaws, and it is replete with silly arguments.

The letter's attempts at overcoming a collective action problem by referring to "many" are ugly but surely can't warrant that amount of whining and repetition?

And, while "Global south" is a tired phrase it is not an oxymoron (the south of the globe rather than, say, the American south) -- and it is a pretty poor choice of "stand-in for all the jargon in this letter". Cochrane has no trouble understanding it, he just whines at length about how he doesn't like the phrase -- and then accuses the authors of not seriously engaging with the issues at hand by hiding behind jargon.

Etc.

However, all of that and is by-the-by compared to the nadir of the response, which is where Cochrane attempts to smear the signatories with anti-Semitism because they use the perfectly standard phrase "globalized capital". Are we going to call, say, Obstfeld and Taylor and much of the international economics literature anti-Semitic as well?

The MFI is off to a flying start for sure.

This is like an Ayn Rand deja-vu....I mean the first letter. Sounds like "Atlas Shrugged"..so nicely vague ;-)

Ralph Austen is also know for his work in economics and history. He published several texts on the Economics of Ancient Africa and such. The fact that he understands economics sort of contradicts his reasoning to sign that petition. He should know the serious debates behind the Chicago School but it seems like he doesn't.

to be clear, I have a lot of respect for John Cochrane. Also, I would never have signed the petition and I am in support of the new institute. I just think that Cochrane's response was terrible and does not make economists look good.

"laughable --

Which one of the signers are you?"

Oh, I get it: if you're not with us, you're against us. Seems about right.

laughable,

Milton Friedman, Nobel prize winning economist, was an ardent advocate on human freedom.

The reason why poverty around the world is dropping dramatically is that more and more countries are moving towards economic freedom.

The name of the new institute in question is the Milton Friedman Institute, and will explore economics in the spirit outlined above and exemplified by Milton Friedman.

The letter writers are opposed in spirit and word to all of the above as poorly outlined in their letter, and blindfully ignorant of my second point, amongst other things.

Hence they are either opposed to human freedom, or they are criminally ignorant of one of Chicago's most eminent products.

If they protest they are not opposed to human freedom, then they are in fact admitting what every economist already knows, namely that they know not what they write.

If you don't realize this, you have no business receiving a Chicago economics PhD.

As a result I don't really believe that you are in fact a Chicago econ PhD student.

Also, feel free to give an example of what you mean by the petitioners do have legitimate complaints/concerns.

It is sad to see such an awful response from Cochrane and some of the comments here, many of which are extraordinarily insulting to non-economists like myself. Some here obviously think that the original protest letter should be completely disregarded since no 'real' economists signed it, and, as we all know, only economists are allowed to comment on Milton Friedman's work.

Of course, when the original letter writers discuss the effects of neoliberalism for 'much of the world's population,' who exactly do you think would be best placed to observe this? Economists like Cocthrane who focus on stock markets and venture capitalism, or perhaps the large number of anthropologists, historians, political scientists and areas studies scholars who signed the letter? For those here who seem to know nothing about these disciplines, some the signers are among the top people in the world in this field: among the anthropologists, for instance, it is hard to find more respected doyens than Marshall Sahlins and Jean and John Comaroff. The vast majority of people who signed the letter, with the exception of some in the math and music departments, are by definition people who have deep social scientific knowledge of the world and are very well placed to analyze how Friedman's ideas have affected the world. You can disagree with them on the specifics of their criticism, or, like Cochrane, you can dismiss them as stupid idiots interested only in 'fancy cocktail parties in Venezuela.' Your choice.

Friedman is personally responsible for thousands of deaths around the world. Pinochet would not had been a mass murderer without Milton's guidance, for example.

Both are now enjoying their special place in Hell.

HC

As HC points out, outside of the US, and particularly in the poor and/or developing countries of the world, Friedman is associated with the policies of Pinochet. Never mind what else he did, that's how people around the world see him, first and foremost.

You can ignore that, condescend to the non-economists in the world, laugh at the pinko-liberals, but it doesn't change that simple fact.

foo (and Happy Camper),

Milton Friedman gave a pro-freedom speech when he was invited to talk at Chicago's sister school in Chile while Pinochet was dictator. Period The notion that a pro-freedom speech somehow endorsed a military dictatorship is laughable. It is even more laughable that somehow without this pro-freedom speech that the military dictatorship of Pinochet wouldn't have been able to carry out its murders.

Milton Friedman also gave a pro-freedom speech when he was invited to communist China during the 70's. Why don't "pinko-liberals" blame Friedman for the millions of deaths under Mao then as well? This seems far more "grievous". talikng in a country responsible for millions of local deaths as contrasted to talking in one responsible for thousands of deaths.

The answer goes to the heart of the matter of why he gave the speeches. The enemy isn't rightist tyrant dictators, nor leftist tyrant dictators. The problem is government tyranny, and the solution is human freedom.

Unfortunately people frame the world as right or left, and ignore that you ought not use the coercive force of government except (if at all) to protect those who violate others liberty, not to advance your rightist or leftist ideology.

I can only hope that you two aren't teaching history anywhere.

Elliot wrote: "The vast majority of people who signed the letter, with the exception of some in the math and music departments, are by definition people who have deep social scientific knowledge of the world and are very well placed to analyze how Friedman's ideas have affected the world."

Whatever "deep social scientific knowledge" is, and however "well placed" the signators are, it is (as I tried to explain in my previous post) no more surprising that these well placed, deep social science thinkers have failed to understand the significance of Friedman' insights on the nature and conseequences of capitalism than it is that Bill Gates failed to understand the significance of Friedman's thought about corporate social responsibility.

I would be concerned that the MFI will turn out to be something like the hackfest that is the hoover institute at stanford.

http://www.hoover.org/bios/hanson.html

I would be concerned that the MFI will turn out to be something like the hackfest that is the hoover institute at stanford.

http://www.hoover.org/bios/hanson.html

What does a Center for Gender Studies do, actually? Just curious.

Cochrane is spot on in his criticism of the petition. The point of his response is to highlight the poorly written manner in which one hundred academics wish to express themselves. Professional academics at a first rate university such as U of C, should not be permitted to write such horrid rhetorical pros without some sort of reprimand.

Whether or not they are valid in their criticism of Mr. Friedman is immaterial. It does not matter. What does matter is that so called academics are allowed to write in a manner that is vague and so offensive to the meaning of words in the context of this dialectic. Cochrane's tone may be a bit too confrontational however, I think the awfulness of the petition is worth the strong pros.

Mr. Cochrane does not need to apologize for anything. That original document is terrible and they deserve to be called out on it.

Elliot said:"and, as we all know, only economists are allowed to comment on Milton Friedman's work."

I do not think that this would be such a bad thing. As we all know, many anthropologists have a certain thought context that they bring to their work. Unsurprisingly, said world view can lead to confirmation bias.

I no more want to hear an anthropologist's opinion of Mr. Friedman's work than I want to hear a lay man's opinion of string theory.

As HC points out, outside of the US, and particularly in the poor and/or developing countries of the world, Friedman is associated with the policies of Pinochet. Never mind what else he did, that's how people around the world see him, first and foremost.

Associating Friedman with the murder and disappearance of Chilean citizens under Pinochet is like associating Paul Krugman with the bigoted and authoritarian policies of Malaysia's Mohammed Mahathir. Economists (along with social scientists from other fields) sometimes try to give advice to, or influence the policies of, authoritarian and undemocratic countries.

The fact that Chile today is one of the more democratic and prosperous countries of what the letter writers call the "global south" doesn't exactly count as a black mark against Friedman or the economic policies that Friedman advocated.

Elliott, rather than just saying that these people are experts in their fields and therefore entitled to comment on Friedman's work, perhaps you could explain exactly what anthropological or sociological research has measured the supposed negative impact of Friedman's policies? You can't simply say "well, that vaguely touches on something that I know about, therefore I have a right to say that you're wrong, with no evidence or reasoning to back up my opinions." We wouldn't accept such a baseless attack from a fellow economist, why should we accept one from an anthropologist?

What Friedman did was not simply concentrate on financial institutions and stockmarkets. He gave logical reasons as to why such things as free markets and controlled, low inflation benefit the poor as well as the rich. When implemented, the correctnes of his theories has been demonstrated in the real world.

And, if these faculty think that the wider world associates Friedman with Pinochet's murders and torture, perhaps they should use their academic influence to educate society about the true legacy of their late UofC colleague, rather than use misinformation allready circulating as a basis to attack him.

As a member of the global south, with a firsthand perspective on the ground, I see a second attempt at the adoption of many of the tenets of the Chicago school, as central to the current economic and governance boom underway in much of Africa. The fact is that policy makers faced with rapid population growth, political and economic stressors adapt quickly to what works and are forced to discard what doesn’t. Milton Freidman's genius was in providing an intellectual toolset that is universally applicable. I rarely meet anyone in policy making capacity with slightest interest in western academics focused on anthropology, social studies etc.

Friedman, like Marx, is an eminent scholar whose ideas you have to engage in even if you violently disagree with them. The 102 professors engaged in this dispute (the 101 petitioners and Cochrane) are hacks who only embarass themselves and the university. The difference between the original petitioners and Cochrane though is that Cochrane does not have the benefit to claim that his reasoning was hampered by writing-by-committee, and the burden of proof why the university should spend $200 million is much higher than the burden of proof why it shouldn't. (While the university would probably help its reputation by creating a top tier Friedman Institute the risk of creating a Friedman temple where underqualified acolytes churn out poorly reasoned hagiography is nonzero, and Cochrane's last paragraph is exactly the kind of hagiography the future institute should disassociate itself from.) Oh, and Tyler Cowen, subjecting a tract to more lenient scrutiny because one agrees with the direction it spins is the hallmark of a mediocre mind.

ogmb is correct to warn against a MFI that would create "a Friedman temple where underqualified acolytes churn out poorly reasoned hagiography. . . "

Here is an outside-the-box suggestion that might help a MFI not to succumb to hubris (BTW, the folks at GMU, with the exception of Dan Klein, might not like this idea): bid EJW and its editor away from Mason and elevate the status of critical commentary in the discipline by housing it at the MFI!

There is a faculty position the signers might be interested in:
"Political Economy of Environmental Change in the Global South"
http://www.higheredjobs.com/faculty/details.cfm?JobCode=175327928

I agree that sociology, anthropology and humanities are less intellectual fields than empirical ones. So yes they are a rung lower than Economics like Dan and the most of the pompous economists on this page have posted. Economics and GSB at U Chicago pale in comparison to the Math and Science programs there - the level of thought and sophisticaion required in a falsifiable fields such as math and science is much greater than in economics where truth is determined by committee and Nobel prizes awarded to theories like Black-Scholes which fail as models rather dramatically in being unable to account for non gaussian statistics. No nobel prize winning work in physics has quite so much flaws as Black Scholes for example.

Nothing the economics department at U of C has put out comes close to the quality of Fermi or Chandras output in Physics or Vladimir Drinfelds output in Math, for example, all U of C professors.

So while I understand that Friedman made important contributions, and probably deserves a center named after him, I cant understand claims such as "Friedman is the greatest thinker Chicago has produced". Not a chance of that being true in the presence of giants like Fermi, Chandra, Drinfeld etc, whose work is much more precise and far reaching.

I like this site, at the dawn of Christmas, like all the sites frequented by friends sent holiday wishes ahead of time, a happy holiday.

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